Monday, December 12, 2005

The Booth

In the 60's, no body gave a damn if you smoked or not as long as you were'nt in diapers. No active resistance to them had yet reached the public sector and there were few places you could not smoke if you wanted too. I bought my first pack, Parliaments, at the small diner across the street from our house, sat down at the counter, ordered a coffee and lit up. I've been lighting up ever since.

Nowadays, I have a nice cut glass bowl filled with kitty litter stabbed with my cigarette butts. The kitty litter works for stale tobbacco odors too. Fortunatly, the mysterious white totems up are enough to keep the kitty away.

This was in the 80's. I drove by a non-descript office building in town that had a shingle proclaiming in no uncertain terms a promise to STOP SMOKING!GUARANTEED! Even though my past liaisons with hypnotists and faith healers and psychics had accomplished nothing more than emptying my wallet leaving me short of cigarette money again, I was determined to become, as they say nowadays, "smoke free". After some careful thought , I turned around at the next light and headed back to the building."Let's see what they got anyway" I thought. Waves of self assuring rationalizations swept over me, assuring me that I had learned my lessons regarding the efficacy of having someone or something quit smoking for me, not to mention being suckered in again. I parked and went in. Let's see what they got.

The salesman explained that his organization used this here aversion therapy with remarkable success in the past treating all sorts of malady's, up to and including the dreaded scourge of alcoholism. Invented by relative of the guy who invented something to do with shaving, maybe a better razor blade, the premise was beguilingly simple. Just do so much of the certain something that you don't want to do no more then eventually you get so sick of it you don't want to do it anymore, period! Why didn't I think of that?

The salesman/therapist went on to explain that in the case of breaking the smoking habit, this modality was called for. Subjects were to be enclosed in a small room, roughly the dimensions of a telephone booth. In front of them was a small window whose only function was to provide some relief from the claustrophobia. Under this, a small shelf held a large bowl filled to the brim with rotting stinking cigarette butts, the effluence of past sessions, and a small electrical conduit that fit over the subjects thumb. Next to all that was a pile of fresh cigarettes, menthol ones at that, just to make the experience even more heinous than it was about to be. The subject entered the booth, sat in front of the bowl and fit the conduit onto his thumb. On cue from the tinny voice coming from the microphone behind him, he was to take one of the fresh cigarettes from the pile and light up. From that point on, everytime he took a drag from the cigarette, a fresh bolt of electricity would course into his thumb, raising him ever so slightly off the seat.
The subject had a set amount of time in the booth, 15 minutes exactly, to finish smoking a set number of cigarettes. That number increased each time he entered the booth so that by the end of the week long therapy some 150 cigarettes had to be choked down within a total of 75 minutes. Clearly any thought of smoking ever again would certainly be banished from the conscious and unconscious mind of a subject. Tough medicine for a tough addiction.

It was a bit tricker with alcoholism. Because alcoholics seem to adopt a somewhat free spirited attitude when in their cups, there penchant for the grape had to be reigned in somehow before they got totally cocked and skew the therapy results beyond repair. So in their case, thirsty volunteers would sit in a faux bar, complete with bartender, dim red lights and the mandatory jukebox crooning sad songs. Every time an a faux patron lifted a drink to his lips, a scientist behind closed curtains would press a button initiating a jolt of electricity to him prompting the drinker to think twice about the next mouthful should he be successful in getting this one
down the hatch. I imagined a bar full of alcoholics, each spitting out drinks every time they tried to raise one up only to get zapped again, the bartender moving up and down the bar dodging each mouthful of Fleishmans as it came hurling towards him.

The salesman/therapist began to speak to me as if I had already signed a contract. He asked me to bring two packs of my favorite cigarettes, and not to buy anymore after that. These last two packs would go into the stockpile of fodder for other subjects to smoke in the booth, then waited for my move. Seemed fair, although I did have a fleeting notion that the tab for the therapy was hefty enough to provide the smokes. No matter. This bit of critical thinking was enough to satisfy my newfound sales resistance and I signed the contract and was set up to begin therapy the coming Monday at 730 pm.

During that weekend before the coming Monday, I smoke with the wild abandon of a person who knows that the end of his smoking world is at hand. Soon I would be a free man, no longer obsessed with yellow teeth, scent challenged breath, clothes and hair, and the whole list of other things feared and loathed about my smoking.

Monday. 7:30 pm. Inside the booth, I confidently snugged up the conduit over my left thumb. I lit the first of my last cigrettes and smoked as quickly as I could obeying the commands of the tinny voice behind me. Beyond the surprise of the first one, the electrical shocks soon amounted to nothing more than the nuisance of causing my posterior to raise ever so slightly off the seat, as if the shock was originating there rather than the tip of my thumb. Sticking the butt of it in the large bowl in front of me, I lit up another one using my free hand, obeying the voice. I had no trouble staying the comfprtable rythym of the course- Drag- Zaaaaap!- up-down. 15 minutes and 10 cigarettes later, feeling strong and smelling like the bottom of an ashtray, I left the
office for home. I don't want to smoke. It's working!

Tuesday 8 am. I want a cigarette with my coffee. I want a cigarette with my coffee bad. I want a cigarette all day, but I don't smoke.
Tuesday 7:30 pm. After asking me to slow it down some and stay with the program, I started to relax. After stepping out f the booth, no desire for a cigarette remains. It's working!

Wednesday 8 am. I want a cigarette with my coffee. I want a cigarette with my coffee bad. I want a cigarette all day, but I don't smoke. I think all day about tonight's therapy.

Wednesday 7:30 pm. I arrived at the clinic/office a half hour early and wait for the salesman/therapist/ scientist to show up. Reckoning that this session brings me to something over 45 cigarettes in something under an hour, I swell with pride. I'm quitting smoking. Finally!

Thursday 8 am. I want a cigarette with my coffee. I want a cigarette with my coffee bad. I want a cigarette all day, but I don't smoke. I think all day about tonight's therapy and Salem cigarettes.

Thursday 7:30 pm. I spend the last 4 minutes in the booth not smoking. Having met the quota , the salesman/therapist holds to therapeutic guidelines and asks me to stop smoking. Leaving the booth, I'm downright proud of myself. I'm as good as guitted.

Friday 8 am. I want a cigarette with my coffee. I want a cigarette with my coffee bad. I want a cigarette all day, but I don't smoke. I think all day about tonight's therapy and Salem cigarettes. I think about me smoking in the booth tonight. I want to smoke in the booth now and just imagining being there brings a feeling of relief that is palatable.

Friday 7:30 pm. After the session, sure enough, I don't want to smoke again and we congratulate ourselves on our success. I have not smoked for a full 5 days now, save for the ones in the booth in the evening, which were therapy and don't count. I sign a document attesting to this success and go home a free man.

Monday following the end of therapy: After several calls during the weekend to the salesman/therapist he finally returns my call. I confess that I smoked last Saturday and have been smoking ever since, now more than ever, and may I have my money back please. After sympathetically expressing his regrets in a tone reserved for a kindly parents speaking to their child after the kid has wet the bed, he informs me that, as per the contract, the guarantee is null and void IF the subject lights up without giving the salesmant/therapist an opportunity to invite the recidivist to take the program again, free of charge. After going thru twice more, for free, the subject is entitled to his money back. Otherwise, he would be glad to rerun the therapy at a special rate for the occasional ex subject who breaks the contract.

I light up another cigarette, noticing that my posterior lifts itself of it's own accord ever so lightly up from the seat.


Blogger Pebble said...

I've heard people smoke for different reasons. If I felt anxious, I could have a cigarette.

Like a good parent, cigarette said I'll take care of you. I'm always here for you. I'll never leave you, never criticize you, never ostricize you. I'll help get you up in the morning. I'll help you enjoy your coffee. With me, you have control. You're in charge. You're the king. Together we'll have the simple life. Relax, I'll take care of everything.

Cigarette said all this while my body got sick on all the coffee and food from vending machines and couldn't do cigarettes anymore. That was over 20 years ago.

At a Native American sweat I attended recently, everyone was smoking cigarettes. Just before they went into the sweat, seconds before, they stood outside sucking up as much smoke as they could among themselves from one last cigarette. It was sad to see them have to leave their cigarette.The first thing they went to when they got out was a cigarette.

I left the sweat craving cigarettes. The good part of the day there got connected to the smoke. My mind said here's a shortcut to a good time, skip lodge, skip people, just do cigarette. I breathe. I remember cigarettes lied, couldn't be there for me all the time. Made me think I was in control when I wasn't. Made me think I was ok, when I wasn't. It distorted the world as it is.

1:01 PM  

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